This is the first in what I hope will be a reasonably regular feature to give some airtime to those unsung folks that played an important part in music history. Back in July 2017 I posted an article about the recording of the Queen classic “We Will Rock You” after reading a piece in Classic Rock magazine. Click here to read that post. The band and Producer Roy Thomas Baker wanted to get a full and powerful stomp to back it up. Everyone in the studio was rounded up to provide that now familiar stomping and clapping refrain, essentially everyone stamped their feet twice and clapped their hands on the offbeat. Incidentally no drums were used on the track. Now not only was everyone in the studio involved but so was Betty the Tea Lady. No one remembers much about her other than her name was Betty, she made the tea at Wessex Sound Studios in North London and that she lived next door to the studio. Well after adding a plea for information about Betty I have heard from two of her five children. Sadly, Betty passed away eleven years ago. However, I had a long and delightful telephone conversation with Betty’s daughter Rosemary. It was Rosemary that drew the short straw and was nominated to do the interview on behalf of herself and her four siblings (a.k.a. “The Other Four”). She walked me through a wonderful potted history of her mother.
The studio itself used to be a Sunday School and one of the main recording areas used to be a classroom. It first became a studio in the 1960s and at various times it was owned by Bill Price, songwriter Les Reed, Chrysalis Records and George Martin was a director for a time. Betty worked at Wessex Studios for 27 years after replying to an advert that was posted on a tree. Many famous and successful bands and singers recorded at Wessex including the Sex Pistols, King Crimson, the Clash, Theatre of Hate, XTC, Slade, Queen, Talk Talk, the Rolling Stones, Pete Townshend and The Damned. Betty, who in addition to carrying out the tea lady duties, also covered the reception desk and met many of them. She got on particularly well with King Crimson. There was always a picture of Queen on the serving hatch. According to her daughter Betty was one of those sadly too rare people who have an innate ability to get on with anyone. Betty and her family, she had five kids including one set of triplets, lived in a flat very close to the studio.
Rosemary said that she sometimes went to the studio to help her Mum and on one occasion Betty asked her to take a tray of tea to the Sex Pistols. Apparently, Rosemary really wasn’t impressed by the band and told her Mum. Betty’s response was that in her experience the Sex Pistols were always very polite and always behaved respectfully towards her. Betty was invited to many award ceremonies as a part of the studio team and to all the studio parties. For one fancy dress party Betty dressed as a punk in bin liners and safety pins. British comedy legend Roy Kinnear filmed some film scenes in Betty’s flat. On another occasion Mike Batt could be found watching The Wombles on the TV in Betty’s flat. Mike, a big cricket fan, bought one of Betty’s sons a cricket bat. People who worked or recorded at the studio really loved Betty. The Singing Nun of “Dominique” fame sang at Rosemary’s wedding. Many of the acts who recorded at Wessex gave Betty a thank you credit on their albums. Slade even named their 1987 album ‘You Boyz Make Big Noize’ after Betty had heard them and uttered that very phrase, albeit probably not spelled the Slade way. Betty loved music and particularly loved to dance. In her younger days she would often visit the Palais. I am sure that Wessex Studios would not have been the same without Betty, she truly is an unsung music history hero!
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